Let Go Your Heart / Let Go Your Head
David Gray's tour with Alison Krauss is a harmonic convergence of styles

By Lee Valentine Smith

British singer-songwriter David Gray released his first studio album in 1993 but he didn't enjoy widespread appeal until the turn of the new decade. In 2000, his album White Ladder ignited his career internationally and the soft-spoken musician was lauded with sales awards from all over the world.

Several of his best-known songs: "Babylon," "This Year's Love," "Please Forgive Me" and "Sail Away" are all from White Ladder but his canon or work includes a number of well-received music from throughout his career. Last year, Gray looked back on his most familiar work with a "Best Of" collection spanning before and after his successful partnership with Dave Matthews-owned ATO Records.

Currently he's on tour with dynamic bluegrass/country/folk artist Alison Krauss, whose solo album Windy City recently topped the charts of several genres. While the co-headlining pairing seems unusual on paper Gray relishes the opportunity to share his music with serious fans of music who may not have been exposed to his earlier work at the end of the commercial alternative era.

Gray spoke with INsite earlier this week from a tour stop near Jekyll Island.

You played North Carolina last night, so you'll be in Atlanta in just a few days. Where are you now?

Basically we're at the very bottom of Georgia in a place called Brunswick at the Golden Isles. We're trying to find something to eat that isn't deep-fried. We've had a salad and now the bar down the street is looking alluring.
The tour is a great contrast of styles. You and Alison have very different takes on the basic core of folk music.
Yeah, I think the contrast is a great strength. For my fans, it's a treat listening to her. She's amazing. Her band is amazing. It's a level of musicianship that is of incredible precision. It's markedly different than my music, but I feel it's a beautiful thing. So far it's worked really well.

How are audiences reacting to the combination of styles?

Just great. On the East Coast, I think I had the majority of the crowd but now that we're coming down south - like last night in North Carolina, which was a beautiful place and an excellent show - I think a lot of the audience were listening to me for the first time.

That's a good challenge.

It is. I just have to reach out and make sure they feel a part of it and welcome. That's part of the gig. There's a little bit of a gap and I have to try and step across it with the human touch and sort of bring them in. I actually think it's a lovely thing and I'm stronger for it. In the past, it might have been an issue for me to attempt but now I've relaxed a bit. It's only taken nearly 50 years but I think I feel very assured and confident of what I'm doing. I feel it's going to come across and I don't need to push too far in order to do it. I just put it out there the best I can. There's a power to the music and I feel like it connects with people so I'm just going to let it.

Looking at the tour itinerary, you're playing a number of legendary venues on this tour: The Ryman, The Greek, Red Rocks. The audience can affect a performance, but can the venue itself influence the show?

Enormously. Especially if you're playing some outdoor venue by the freeway with buildings all around and hard, reflective surfaces and noise. Last night we were playing by a lake with beautiful pine trees and a real sense of peace and quiet. There was a magic in the air. I went on in the magic hour as well, just as it was getting dark. You really can't ask for more than that. The energy from the surroundings definitely feeds into the show. If you've got a freight train and the rumble of the city all around you, that is a very different thing. Every place is different, but a great venue often leads to a great show.

Your most recent album is a Best Of collection. Usually that indicates the end of an era and the beginning of a new chapter of a career. How do you feel about having a greatest hits package as part of your canon of work?

In this case the songs sort of picked themselves for the most part. Then the second part of the expanded one was hand-picked by me from the recordings we have, reflecting songs that aren't singles necessarily but ones that have a great strength to them. Some are on it because of the sheer number of listens or streams; it's always a great surprise to me to know exactly what people are listening to, with playlists and all that. So technology picked a few of the tracks. I think it's basically a snapshot of where I am, or where I was last year when it was released. I've got a huge swath of music to be released over the next couple of years as well. Definitely one album for next year and possibly one more the year after. There's a whole lot of new stuff to come, so this certainly isn't the end of a creative era, that's for sure.

Alison Krauss and David Gray play Chastain Park Amphitheater September 30.
For more information, please visit, chastainseries.com.



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